The Green Man

Having just returned from attending a four day Dream Retreat, I want to share a little about the experience I had there. Out of respect for the tribe that gathered, and the impossibility of ever fully articulating the essence of what transpired between us, I’ll share an experience that relates to what I have been writing and sharing here with you, my WP tribe.

We were given the image of the Green Man, a figure who I have recently become quite fascinated with, for one of the active imagination sessions. I suspect he might have had a voice in a recent post of mine, Wild Child. The Green Man is an archetypal expression calling attention to our relationship to the natural habitat of the woods as a necessary source of life and creativity.

Osiris, ruler of the underworld and of rebirth and regeneration, was typically shown with a green face. (Tomb of Nefertari), 1295-1253 BC

The Green Man has made appearances in stories around the globe through both pagan and Abrahamic religious imagination, leaving behind a trail of art and symbolism in Europe and the Near-East.

I first heard (and have even written) about him a few months ago through Tom Cheetham’s book, GREEN MAN, EARTH ANGEL, The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World, in which Tom writes about Khidr, the Verdant One, how he is known in Sufism.

In Sufism, Khidr, a contemporary of Moses, is known as the righteous servant of God.


“Who is Khidr? There is a hint of the answer in his name: Khidr is the “Verdant One.” He is the Green Man. He is the Angel of the Face and the Angel of the Earth as hermeneut: the Verus Propheta revealed to each soul in the form in which each is able to receive it. It is to this hermeneutics that we now turn.”

Cheetham sees the Green Man as mediator between the world of matter and spirit with a power to heal the schism between the two worlds.

“Matter need no longer be confused with the demonic. Indeed, everything becomes material. What had been conceived as spiritual reality becomes the realm of subtle bodies, and there is a continuum from the dense to the subtle that corresponds to an intensification of being. It is possible for any of the beings belonging to the world of Light to become more real, more themselves, more individual and intense in their very being.”

Along with spiritual hunger, the idea of matter as demonic, can be seen in our civilization that’s seemingly going mad. We speak of being too materialistic, outwardly focused, shallow in our relationships, wasteful and destructive in our use of precious resources. But at the same time, a heightened sense of the material world seems to be calling us “back to nature.” The call of the wild, the desire for closeness to nature, greater awareness of diet and the environment are all perhaps expressions of a need to redeem matter and reflect on our distinctions between matter and spirit.

“Like can only be known by like: this means that thought and being are inseparable, that ethics and perception are complementary. The form of the soul is the form of your world. This fundamental unity of the faculties of human cognition and the world to which they give access is that eternal pagan substrate of all religion.”

Cheetham sees here a need to reconsider these distinctions between matter and spirit, doing a sort of flip-flop around our ideas of them.

“It is a stance toward reality that gives weight to the display of the image, denying the schism between the inner and the outer, the subjective and the objective.”

Giving weight to both images and our subjective world, and in turn, imaging the weightiness, or to all that is real and objective may soften the boundaries between spirit and matter and perhaps see that, arising together, they are mutually inclusive.

Green man over a church window in Fountains Abbey

So, what about the Green Man and my experience with him during active imagination? Before I describe what I saw and heard, I must add that although I have practiced active imagination quite a few times, this was the first time that I felt truly engaged with, as Jung would have called it, an autonomous figure. Perhaps, I was misunderstanding how to approach this activity, making it more complicated than it actually is. 🙂

File:Greenman mask with eyes.jpg
mask by lauren raine

I close my eyes and immediately see a bright-green, leaf-covered figure of a man running in the woods away from me. I follow after him, trying to keep up. He stops at a large tree and enters into a hollow at the tree’s base disappearing from view. I enter into the hollow and begin to move downward.

At first I see around me many tree roots. The world down there seems alive with bugs, worms and slimy things. The smell becomes prominent and not too pleasant. I also see small bone chips scattered everywhere, presumably human and animal in origin. I also feel a heavy psychic presence.

We go down deeper and it becomes very dark. I can no longer see, but only smell, touch and hear. The Green Man begins speaking to me saying:

“This is the life, the abundance that feeds you. All life will come to be part of this place. You only see the fruit, the sweetness and suffer from neglecting us. We want to be recognized, seen; our sufferings, all the things left unsaid, for they both frighten and sustain you in your life. One day you too will feed the world from this place.

You’re a part of us, we feed and nourish you. Stop acting like you don’t know. Remember us and what’s gone before.

You suffer from forgetting our suffering. You’re fear of us has you running away.

(and in a much louder voice he says:)

My retreat is your retreat.”

That’s it. Perhaps the most startling line, besides the emphatic last line, was when he said to stop acting like I don’t know. I am still puzzling over that and am not sure what he is referring to, but have a few ideas. Perhaps there’s more I need to ask him and also hear your thoughts too. One clear take away from the dream retreat for me was how much our dreams and imaginings carry shared meaning. In hearing other’s dreams, and sharing my own, there was quite often a profound and obvious synchronicity of theme and image shedding light on some aspect of my life and the lives of the other participants.

The retreat was a full-bodied feeling of experiencing others inside and through myself. A most amazing time I will not soon forget. Highly recommended to anyone interested who happens upon an opportunity to participate. There are no strangers, your tribe awaits!

Except as noted, all quotes from Tom Cheetham. Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World (S U N Y Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). Kindle Edition.

Alchemical Psychology, Part IV – White

Following the silver, perhaps through the refining of silver, we move into the white or the albedo stage in the alchemical journey towards the gold. The albedo is essential as means, not only a stage to pass through, but for the creation of a vessel which will ultimately contain all that follows.

“In alchemical color symbolism white is the principal stage between black and red, a transition of soul between despair and passion, between emptiness and fullness, abandonment and the kingdom. Albedo is also the first goal of the work, coming after the nigredo has divided the world into mind and matter, yet before the rubedo restores the subtle body to its carnal keeper. Because of alchemical warnings about the “reddening coming too fast” and about the black crows creeping back down into the nest, the albatio or “whitening” is essential to slow the reddening on the one hand, and on the other to raise the blackness from its inertia.
As a state between, the albedo is referred to as bride, Mary (as intercessor), moon, dawn, and dove.”

Again, Hillman warns us of the importance of distinguishing between the pre-black white of innocence and the white that transitions from black towards the red, in which the white works as mediator between the disintegrating parts of the nigredo and the gold in which we can bear to live in two worlds at once, the physical and the psychic.

“Primary white is immaculate (without stain or blemish), innocent (without hurt, harmless), ignorant (without knowing, disregarding), unsullied and unsoiled. This condition cannot be the terra alba because there is no earth to whiten.
Our white, the second white or albedo, emerges from that black, a white earth from scorched earth as the silver from the forest fire. There is a recovery of innocence, though not in its pristine form. Here innocence is not mere or sheer inexperience, but rather that condition where one is not identified with experience.”

The second innocence, is not so much rebirth, but rebirthing. No longer must we experience things only personally, but both personally and from knowing the universality of all that happens, no longer just what happens to me, as if a first and only time, but with the insight that I live in a stream of otherness, and there “is nothing new under the sun.”

All that I can feel and sense has an archetypal nature, which allows us to feel to the depths what happens because we no longer need to escape feeling by transcending beyond the personal into some hyper spiritual mode that seeks to explain away, nor stay in the intensity of personal feeling where we fail to see the universality of our experience because we’re over-identified with it. One denies our personhood, where the other denies our connection to the gods. White is the mediator or the means by which the material becomes psychic.

Hillman notes that an over abundance of earthiness can lead to its opposite of hyper-spiritualizing:

“The gross notions of earth in contemporary psychology betray its materialism; this psychology is so heroic and spiritualized that mother must carry its grounding. No wonder that modern psychology cannot leave its philosophy of development, its laboratory concretism and reliance upon measurement, its reductive explanations. It has not found another earth that would give support and yet not be materialistic.”

The other earth here is the subtle body, or what Hillman refers to as “soul-making.” His term for the Great Work. He refers often to the work of Henry Corbin and his notion of Celestial Earth:

“The terra alba is a climate and geography, with palaces and persons, a richly imaginal place, not mere abstract wisdom. In Corbin’s accounts the celestial earth is full of spiritual bodies; or let us say that the subtleties of soul are embodied in the mundus imaginalis by primordial persons, eternal archons, angelic essences who offer human consciousness a grounding in hierarchical principles, enabling a human being to recognize what is essential, what comes first, and what is of lasting worth.”

The whitening puts the soul in motion compared to the stuckness of the nigredo in the material nature of things.

“So the albedo is experienced also as the motion of psychic reality, what we have come to call “psychodynamics” and “processes” – so long as these are not literalized into systems upon which we can rest content. For when motion becomes a system of motion, rather than the actual moves the psyche makes, then we are again in a nigredo, that is, densely unconscious. Our language (psychic energy, process of individuation, development, psychodynamics) is stifling actual movement in concepts about movement.”

And motion unsticks us, allowing for a sense that we can be moved into a second sight that brings forgiveness and peace in spite of the sometimes terror and horror of being alive. Sensing and accepting that we live through archetypal forces and they live through us relieves us of the burden of a personal self being the only source of our experiences.

“We also find ourselves easing off, no longer purging the bowels of putrefactio, no longer guilty. Complaining gives way to recollections in tranquility: the memories are there but no longer hold one to their rack. The sense of sin is washed, ablutio. The material has sweat itself into moistening, and we may even find a sense of humor. Ironic chagrin relieves shame. The voice now speaking in the inner ear and the words now coming from the inner figures of imagination tell us “it’s all right,” “take it easy,” “let it be,” “give yourself a chance.” The white lady brings peace. She sits in the garden with a wide lap.”

As in all of the alchemical stages there is always the danger of leaving behind the previous stages. In the case of white, we risk being tempted to leave behind the black, being forever relieved of the burden of one’s shadow instead of incorporating the skill of life-long dusting off.

“The urge to white is so close to the escape from black. Then the ablutio can become simply whitewashing, and candida can mean only a clean breast, a frank and open discussion, candid. “Albation,” says the dictionary, still means dusting (off, away, over) with a fine white powder. Here the whitening converts back to primary innocence and the opus is back where it began.”

The next danger of the whitening is that of too much comfort in the cooling. The albedo stage, if it is to lead further into the reddening stage, needs to use the skills now acquired to tackle the issues in life that were once forbidden because of fear, lack of skill and reflection.

“We may have to invite new aggressions and passions; summon up the furies; force confrontations with essential questions that the white lady might prefer to cool.”

A third danger is that of calcination or premature drying.

“Yes, the opus needs intense heat to dry up the personalized moistures: sobbing collapses, longings that flow out, sweet dopey confusions. These are dried in the soul-making process. But these conditions cannot just be hit over the head, taken to the (dry) cleaners, caustically scorched. For in them there is a germ trying to flower.”

The risk here is to not turn reflection into cynicism, Too much heat, drying us out, exhausting us from too much work.

The last danger is that of vitrification, in which we take on the burden of too much personalization.


“What goes on in the soul is not of your or my doing, but refers back to the germination in us of the gods in the earth, the seven metals of the objective psyche or world soul. Vitrification closes us to this awareness; we become glassed into our personal individuality.
We tend to forget that work on the psyche (soul-making) does indeed make the spirit more embodied. We forget that what goes on in the mind is gaining more and more substantial reality. If these newly-made psychic realities rise to the top, they tend to take on a life of their own, up and out, in behaviors glazed and unsusceptible to any further change.
When the vessel becomes the focus of the work, when we take psyche itself substantially, when we literalize containment or seeing-through, then we are vitrifying. Psychology as a subject of its own, rather than a mode of seeing through, reflecting, shaping and containing other substances, is simply a vitrification, a glazed and fixed consciousness without humour, without imagination, without insight. Psyche has become Psychology.”

In order for the Great Work to continue, fixation on the means of reflection, the whiteness itself must not be seen as the goal, but rather as the vessel that will be used in the marriage yet to come.

Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman) (Kindle Locations 3553-3556). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

“White bird,
dreams of the aspen trees,
with their dying leaves,
turning gold.”

Links to all posts in the series:

Colour My World , Alchemical Psychology, Part I – Black

Alchemical Psychology, Part II – Blue

Alchemical Psychology, Part III – Silver

Alchemical Psychology, Part IV – White

Alchemical Psychology, Part V – Yellow

Alchemical Psychology, Part VI – Red

Alchemical Psychology, Part VII – Air

Alchemical Psychology, Part VIII – Caelum

Alchemical Psychology, Part II – Blue

A  look at James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, the second stage. Part I, Colours, is here.

The move from the morbidity of black is towards blue. Still a bit shadowy, but perhaps coming to us just as we are able to see in the dark, and is that which can only come from adding light, or waiting until our senses become more acute. Adjustment can come through accepting the darkness we find ourselves in, the isolation that we experience there which surprisingly leads to gaining enough distance for reflection.

“The blue transit between black and white is like that sadness that emerges from despair as it proceeds towards reflection. Reflection here comes from or takes one into a blue distance, less a concentrated act that we do than something insinuating itself upon us as a quiet removal. This vertical withdrawal is also like an emptying out, the creation of a negative capability, a profound listening – already an intimation of silver.”

Having lost the ground of our being that we once stood so firmly on, a new grounding can emerge in which we allow a place for the things in life that once fell into the shadows, because we could not bare them, disowning them through idealization of both ourselves and the world around us.

“The soul’s putrefactio is generating a new anima consciousness, a new psychic grounding that must include underworld experiences of the anima itself: her deathly and perverse affinities expressed alchemically by the “moon bitch” (CW 14: 181), “rabid dog”(CW 14: 182)  and lunacy that comes with the moon goddess, Diana.  The dark blue of the Madonna’s robe bears many shadows, and these give her depths of understanding, just as the mind made on the moon has lived with Lilith so that its thought can never be naive, never cease to strike deep toward shadows.  Blue protects white from innocence.”

We cannot reach the white without giving up the childish innocence we once new and perhaps cherished. Blue keeps us in touch with the black of the underworld, the darkness and sometimes terrifying nature of life, giving us enough distance that we neither identify with the darkness, nor the childish insistence that everything is good.

Without these gradations that the color spectrum offers, we risk perpetually swinging back and forth from the cynicism of living in a cold, dark world to the craving for a paradisiacal one in which suffering is abolished and innocence is presumed and worshipped.

“What before was the stickiness of the black, like pitch or tar, unable to be rid of, turns into the traditionally blue virtues of constancy and fidelity. Country-and-Westerns sing the blues of desertion and fidelity. “Gone and left me,” “done me wrong,” “but I can’t help lovin’.” I may be ruined and bruised, yet still my heart’s still loyal. No way to put something behind me and get on. Blue remembers, and the black in it doesn’t let things go. The tortured and symptomatic aspect of mortification – flaying oneself, pulverizing old structures, decapitation of the head-strong will, the rat and rot in one’s personal cellar – give way to mourning.”

There is so much more that HIllman brings to his chapter on blue, but I promised myself that I would be brief, in the hopes that you, dear reader, will remain curious enough to continue reading this thread and perhaps even read his wonderful book. So, I will leave the last words on blue here to Hillman:

“As an archetypal grace given with the cosmos, the colors donate their imaginative force to our creativity. How else account for the blue masterpieces in the arts? Gershwin, for instance, or Miles Davis? Is it merely a convention that names their music blue? Or does blue’s archetypal power affirm its imaginal reality by means of these masterpieces? Blue made the music blue as it makes our souls sorrow. Blue’s specific gift is to the mind so that its sight can be insight, its vision visionary, and metaphor its terra firma.”

Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman) (Kindle Locations 2213-2217). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Links to all posts in the series:

Colour My World , Alchemical Psychology, Part I – Black

Alchemical Psychology, Part II – Blue

Alchemical Psychology, Part III – Silver

Alchemical Psychology, Part IV – White

Alchemical Psychology, Part V – Yellow

Alchemical Psychology, Part VI – Red

Alchemical Psychology, Part VII – Air

Alchemical Psychology, Part VIII – Caelum